Rio+20: Agreement reached, say diplomats

Activists lie on Rio Branco in Rio de Janeiro Environmental groups have already lamented the draft text's lack of commitments

Related Stories

Negotiators have agreed a text to be approved by world leaders meeting this week in Rio in a summit intended to put society on a more sustainable path.

Environment groups and charities working on poverty issues believe the agreement is far too weak.

The Rio+20 gathering comes 20 years after the Earth Summit, also held in the Brazilian city.

The text has yet to be signed off by heads of government and ministers, but it seems that no changes will be made.

"We have reached the best possible equilibrium at this point; I think we have a very good outcome," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.

"We consider that the spirit of Rio has been kept alive after 20 years."

However, the European Union was unhappy with the level of ambition in the text, in particular Denmark, which holds the EU presidency.

But Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken told BBC News that she believed it would be signed off.

"The EU would have liked to see a much more concrete and ambitious outcome, so in that respect I'm not happy with it," she said.

"However we managed to get the green economy on the agenda, and so I think we have a strong foundation for this vision that can drive civil society and the private sector to work in the same direction, to understand that environment and the social side must be integrated into the heart of the economy."

For the US, lead negotiator Todd Stern described the deal as "a good step forward", adding that he did not expect heads of state and government to re-open discussions.

"I believe this document is done," he said pointing out that Brazil has "no plan or intention to let the document open up."


Environment and development groups are dismayed by many aspects of the agreement.

Rio+20 building More than 100 leaders are expected to attend the summit from Wednesday

In large part, it merely "reaffirms" commitments nations have made previously.

Activists mounted a huge Twitter campaign on Monday in an attempt to persuade governments to commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies.

However the final text reaffirms previous commitments to phase them out if they are "harmful and inefficient", without setting a date.

The text calls for "urgent action" on unsustainable production and consumption, but it gives no detail or a timetable on how this can be achieved, and no clear direction as to how the world economy can be put on a greener path.

Developing countries might have agreed to go further it developed countries had offered tangible financial support, but it did not do so.

Several processes will be established leading from the summit. One will eventually establish sustainable development goals (SDGs), but there is nothing in the agreement on what they might promise.

Start Quote

This damp squib of a draft negotiating text makes it clear the Rio talks lack the firepower needed to solve the global emergency we're facing”

End Quote Craig Bennett Director of policy and campaigns, Friends of the Earth

The UK's environment minister, Caroline Spelman, praised the deal on SDGs as a "good outcome".

"We have backed SDGs from the outset and helped drive them from a good idea to a new agreement that will elevate sustainability to the top of the agenda."

The UN Environment Programme will be strengthened, but not fundamentally reshaped, as some governments, in particular the French and Kenyans, wanted.

Another process will eventually lead to new protection for the open oceans, including the establishment of marine protected areas in international waters, and stronger action to prevent illegal fishing.

Corporations will not be obliged to measure their environmental and social performance. They are merely invited to do so.

Missed opportunity?

Overall, observers here, as well as some government delegates, felt the world community has missed an opportunity to change the world's development track.

"This damp squib of a draft negotiating text makes it clear the Rio talks lack the firepower needed to solve the global emergency we're facing," said Friends of the Earth's director of policy and campaigns, Craig Bennett, in Rio.

"Developed countries have repeatedly failed to live safely within our planet's limits. Now they must wake up to the fact that until we fix our broken economic system we're just papering over the ever-widening cracks."

More than 100 world leaders are expected in Rio from Wednesday to attend the summit.

They include presidents and prime ministers from the large emerging economies, including China, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

But US President Barack Obama will not be there, and neither will UK Prime Minister David Cameron or German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are all sending ministers in their places.

  • What is the Rio summit about?
Population chatrt
  • The Rio summit will focus on efforts to reduce poverty, while protecting the environment. This task is made harder as the world's population is expected to rise steeply in the years ahead.
  • The planet's population could be 15 billion people by 2100. Wealth is also expected to rise but its effect on the environment is unclear.
  • In the past, more people, with more wealth has meant increased consumption.
  • Since the last Rio summit in 1992, the
    number of people on Earth has gone up by
  • 22%
  • Seafood consumption has gone up by
  • Meat by
  • The average person eats 43 kg of meat a year. In 1992 it was 34 kg.
  • Source: UNEP, 2011. Figures relate to 2007
  • While food consumption is rising, there are still large numbers of people who are undernourished.
  • It is one of the UN's many development goals to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.
  • How able is the planet to meet increasing demand?
  • In 1960, a little over half the planet's land, forests and
    fisheries were needed to meet human consumption.
  • By the late 1970s, consumption was equal to one planet.
  • By the first years of this century, one-and-a-half planets
    were needed to meet consumption.

    This deficit can only be met by the depletion of renewable
    resources and increased pollution.
Global resource consumption
  • Consumption isn't equal. North Americans and Europeans consume far more resources than are available solely within their borders.
Living planet index
  • As human populations increase, the number and diversity of birds
    and animals is falling.
  • Decreasing biodiversity undermines the planet's ability to sustain humanity. Its reductions typically affect the poorest the most. These issues are right at the heart of the Rio talks.
Chart showing stress on each system
  • Some argue that the planet has limits to the stress its different systems can undergo, beyond which a stable future cannot be guaranteed.
  • This graphic from the scientist and sustainability expert Johan Rockström suggests those limits have already been broken for climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle.

Follow Richard on Twitter


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Don't these people get it? Changing the way society fundamentally behaves will take decades, they need to start these changes now while we still have time (if indeed we have).
    If the infrastructure of the world is not changed to run on renewables when the oil starts to run out we will get desperate and cause untold damage to stay afloat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Concerning the overpopulation problem I suggest you read this: "The world could perfectly well provide food for 12 million people, almost the double of the present population of 7 million. " Jean Ziegler, member of the UN Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee with an expertise on economic, social and cultural rights.,english/

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    When millions of cars produced in a few months are reported as being positive news Rio is of no significance whatsoever.
    Thankfully some of us are too old for it to matter!

  • Comment number 108.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 107.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    9 Minutes ago
    "Has ANY of the doom laden prophesies from 20 years ago actually come true?"
    There have been doughts on every continent in the last 12 months
    Many countries experiencing v significant flooding

    But we were told our children 'wouldn't know snow.' That there would be 'major population displacement by 2010'

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    From what i see the document and summit are both non-events. If the text merely reaffims previous commitments then it could be said no progress has been made at all, while corporations have once again been let off the hook by not being forced to record their environmental and social impact. I hoped for more but the reality is these summits always end up as a complete waste of time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    It's a downing process all the more painful to witness as massive investments in green energies have the potential to solve the current economic crises, through, why not, a funding from the European Central Bank directly to reliable companies, instead of it funding good-for-nothing banks.
    Greece could be the first one to benefit such a measure, don't you think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    What agreement? The usual "Nero fiddling" agreement to do absolutely nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    "Has ANY of the doom laden prophesies from 20 years ago actually come true?"

    Yes, although you might want to check time scale of consequence.


    There have been doughts on every continent in the last 12 months

    Many countries experiencing v significant flooding

    And the other 2 are may be not no.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I'd humbly say that environmental and social policies are closely related. If we thrive on selling weapons and thus promote violence and thrive on exploiting our brothers and sisters, then how can we expect to solve the multiple environment crises?
    Maybe we're all going to hell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Brilliant news. Each one of the 26,000 delegates has agreed not to meet in Capri next time, but to each plant a tree in the Highlands, reforesting a huge area and making a massive contribution to the apparent problem.

    You knew I was joking, didn't you?

  • Comment number 99.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "Earth has finite resources, you can only have so many people on it"

    Not really true. The real limiting factor is technical expertise (how to use resources). Technical expertise is steadily rising (presently)

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Have they all agreed to have another meeting, somewhere nice , in another couple of months.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Has ANY of the doom laden prophesies from 20 years ago actually come true?

    Global warming?
    World starvation?
    Wars over water?
    Rising sea levels flooding nations?
    The collapse of oil and gas supplies?

    No thought not.

    So why believe any of these so called "experts" now?

    It seems to me that all they just want us to fund £100 billion more of their dubious research work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    "According to some research. For every one to have the same standard of living as the average American we need 6 planets"

    Luckily for the human race there are more than six planets in the universe

    Meanwhile, the vast majority of the human race live in poverty, so it looks like you are getting most of what you want

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    If your read the story you will see that the agreement is absolutely meaningless. It has just been an excuse for 26,000 scientists to have a holiday in Rio at your expense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    88. A_Diamond_Miner
    Where do these 5 billion to be sterilised live?
    What criteria have you applied to identify those suitable for sterilisation?
    Carbon footprint, energy usage, oil consumption?
    I suspect your targets don't live in the North.
    The rich have always been concerned about the fecundity of the poor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    #88 Diamond Miner
    I know full well that this issue is important. Your methods as detailed in #72 are distasteful to me. There are more humane methods and Malthus need not be our supreme guru.

    If we do nothing about population and growth THEN perhaps drastic scenarios will emerge out of Nature's woodwork as detailed in Dr A Bartlett's lectures. Take your pick from:


Page 4 of 9


More Science & Environment stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.